Juneau Photo Safari Excursion Reviews
This excursion included a hike/walk through rain forest to Mendenhall Glacier, and a boat trip to look for whales. the guide was excellent, very knowledgeable and interesting.
We did the Gastineau Guiding by Land and Sea Photo Tour. Our guide, David, a professional photographer, was excellent. I am new at photography, and he helped me with all of the setting of my camera and even took some shots for me when I couldn't seem to get it right. He was very knowledgeable about nature, and really helped us appreciate the short hike at Mendenhall Glacier. He told us exactly how to anticipate the whales surfacing so we could get the shot. We even spotted a bear at Mendenhall Glacier, because he knew where to look! It was too dark to get a good picture, but just seeing it was enough for me. This was a highlight of my trip and well worth the steep price!
Whale Watching and Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari (Juneau)
About $200, purchased from Carnival in advance
Although pricy, this tour boasted a maximum group size of 14 people, and we only had 11 in our group. We boarded another tourbus - very similar to the tourbus we were on in Skagway - and went to a harbor somewhere in or around Juneau. Another feature of the tour was that the Tour Guide, David, was a professional photographer, and he gave us tips for photographing wildlife during the trip to the marina. I'm not much of a photographer, so I found his information very handy. The boat was perfect for the number of people we had - we could all move around without getting in each other's way, and the windows opened in and latched to the ceiling, so they were also out of the way while we were trying to watch for whales.
At first we waited in one spot for about ten minutes or so and spotted two whales - close enough so that we could see their tales flip in the air as they dove underwater. When it was clear that those whales had moved along, the boat moved to another location where there were already several whalewatching boats present. The captain of the boat acted as secondary tour guide to keep things interesting. Again, after about ten minutes or so, we saw a whole pod of about five or six whales - the tour guide said there was a baby with them too. The boats aren't allowed to get more than 100 yards from the whales, but the whales can do whatever they want, and they seemed determined to give all the watchers a good time - first coming up near one boat, then another, and then ... our boat! A couple of them came up right there (points to a spot no more than 25 feet away.) And, okay, I didn't get great photos, but I don't care, because I saw whales! It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
From there we went by bus (and got a hearty snack) to the Mendenhall Glacier, where the Parks Service has a visitor's center. Our Tour Guide took us along a nature trail, about five minutes or so to a bridge over a creek where salmon were spawning. The bears really like the spawning salmon - it's like a buffet - and right around the corner from the bridge was a bear! It wandered off down the trail we were going to take, so we turned around and went back the way we came.
After that, we walked over to see the Mendenhall Glacier. There's a small lake that the glacier feeds, with little icebergs in the lake. The Visitor's Center is maybe a mile across the lake from the edge of the glacier. It was really gorgeous.
The was the first part of the same tour. We had a photo instructor who took us in a small 14 passenger bus into the rain forest area near Mendenhall glacier. He suggested that we change the brochure-described .75 mile hike to a much longer hike. I was afraid to object even though I knew it would be a problem for me. My arthritic knees were bothering me a great deal. The photo instructions were great, the hike was just too strenuous.
We did the Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari. WOW! David is great. The boat is very comfortable and very photo friendly (obviously). We saw bald eagles, seals, sea lions, humpback whales and a large, active pod of orca's who put on quite a show. At Mendenhall, we didn't see a bear, but he was nearby (half eatten salmon and plenty of scat). Oh, the glacier is awesome as well! This tour is limited, so it isn't crowded at all.
The best thing about this tour is that it is limited to about 14 people. The whale watching was excellent. The side trip to Mendenhall Glacier was a disappointment. It is labelled as a photo tour but we took a forced march through the woods where the guide pointed out flowers and gave the general canned glacier talk. We were given little time to take photos, which was a primary reason for choosing this tour. We thought the photographer guide would give us insight into interesting photo opportunities but that did not occur. A few of us located our own photo opportunities but felt rushed. If you are a photographer this is not the tour for you. Take a taxi to the glacier and explore on your own.
TAKE THIS EXCURSION! Ignore the description, if you don't care about your camera, fine - the person who took us out was an EXPERT whale photographer (by trade) and was able to track the whales movement in the water enough to get us as close as legally possible, we watched as other tours tried to find a good spot but as the whales moved we were ahead and they were always chasing. We saw bubble net feeding (rare) and got some great info. Also saw the glacier, and bears, and other wildlife.
This was one of the best excursions.